Measuring Soft Skills Part II

How do you know if the training is sticking? How do you know that soft skill improvements are making a difference?  Regardless of the industry, these questions are always present.  Organizational stakeholders and individuals need to know that there is a Return on Investment (ROI) when they make decisions to train their workforce.  We must also consider the Return on Expectations (ROE) so that we deliver an experience and result that meets expectations.

To invest in training we need to know that it is working – and how well. Entire systems are created in an attempt to measure soft skills.

Capturing Data vs. Capturing Experience

We are realizing that data isn’t capturing the importance and detail of training outcomes. Trainers are shifting their approach so that soft skills are measured through videos and pictures.  For instance, if stakeholders are looking for engagement and fun, they are able to watch their employees participate through captured videos. The visual moves beyond the non-interactive data collection of the spreadsheet toward a more impactful connection.  But what about the coaching or training that is not all fun – the ones where stakeholders are looking for shifts in outcomes.

Stick-to-itiveness (n) : 

Dogged perseverance. The quality that allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult or unpleasant.

 Stick-to-itiveness, first coined in 1867, speaks to this determination to understand how to measure the impact of soft skills. We are trying to capture the impact as a person or group enters into communication coaching and/or training.  When soft skills training is sticky, the training can be seen and measured through how it impacts the employee, their experience, and business connection.  We know it isn’t enough to “talk at” people – we must find ways to engage people in a true life-altering experience.  So many coachings | trainings skim the surface of issues plaguing our current workforce cultures.  When we coach the situations that shift the effectiveness of personal and interpersonal interactions, we see a deeper engagement and connection personally, as well as within and between teams.  When we coach individuals to effectively engage, connect, and create relationship, they’re able to maintain open communication.  For instance, when a consultant explores and understands what is getting in the way of their approach, they are able to have a greater connection with their client, which can help support and move the business initiatives forward.  The results are greater efficiency and greater impact.  We also see this in choices made in team interaction. By coaching the communication, we experience teammates having greater collaboration, and with greater collaboration, the team is more effective.   The effectiveness and efficiency speaks to the importance of soft skills communication training.

Revisiting the training & participant commitment

As ARTiculate coaches, we measure the effectiveness of soft skills by revisiting the training with the clients a month after the training.  This brings the participant back to their written and stated commitment from the training. On a sheet of paper, participants write down the 1 – 2 things that they want to shift in their communication style. They are turning in these commitment sheets, and, months after the experience, we are checking in with the participant to inquire about the commitment they made and how they are noticing the shifts in their working relationships.  Not only are they drawn back to their commitment, they are reminded that a coach remembers and cares about their growth.  I have found that when inquiry happens, the participants want to share their personal stories of how the training is sticking, as well as with their appreciation for the coach – client connection. The email testimonials are saved so that examples can be shared when a measurement is required for business justification. Management can witness the stick-to-itiveness of the training by seeing how their staff is practicing continuously and their entire company benefits from these shifts.

Meaningful Experience & Lasting Impact

So, yes to flipcharts, pictures, pollings and videos – AND as a communication coach, the real measure for Return on Investment is stick-to-itiveness which impacts and shifts behavior so that connection and relationship supports the business culture and an employee’s personal fulfillment.

written By Robin A. Miller, PhD, CPCC

Presence: Let’s Talk

While reviewing and assessing recorded videos for a client, we found the distinction between speaking and talking, although very subtle, makes a significant difference.

…for the sake of connecting more deeply, avoid speaking “at” and instead talk “with”…

To be a good speaker with presence you need to really talk.
Talking by definition has a connection with your audience. Having a talk with someone is a two-way communication.

We are committed to the connection – equipping clients with the skills and details of empowered interconnectedness to more effectively show up and communicate as our very authentic selves.

“Let’s speak about that.” “May I speak with you?” “I’m going to be speaking tomorrow.”

Doesn’t it feel like that is leaving out the other – like we will be the recipients of information without the ability to engage, respond, share info or dialogue?

“Let’s talk about that.” “May I talk with you?” “I’m going to be talking tomorrow.”

Now we exist.  Now we can talk.

What’s different?

Well one thing is Presence — and Presence is perhaps counter-intuitively, built on a foundation of openness and vulnerability.

When we are present we are open and available for the other half of the dialogue.  Even if you are giving a so-called “speech”, when you are present people feel connected, seen and heard – even if they don’t say anything.

In a conversation, if you are not present, you may be simply speaking.

Herein lies the power:

Presence, stage presence, executive presence all require a willingness to step into open vulnerability to be authentic.  Without the vulnerability that acknowledges the other and lets you be seen, the assumed presence dissolves, like a mist to reveal a solid wall.  You have shut others out.  Be brave enough to show up and talk – then your authentic self can be there, with all your flaws and fabulousness.

So, can we talk?

-written by Hilary Blair

Trust Buster: The Subconscious Head Shake

written by Hilary Blair

Sometimes we shake our head “no” without realizing it.

It can send mixed messages.

If we are sharing good news, great findings, or encouragement while shaking our head “no”, it has a tendency to muddy the message at the least and at the worst, contradict our intention. Contradictions in messaging can undermine trust – the bedrock of our communication.

Why do we do that?

  1. Voice Freedom. Sometimes our voice can feel stuck. Physiologically when we shake our heads it can be a subconscious way of releasing our voice.  In our attempts to be professional or not too enthusiastic, we sometimes get a bit tight vocally.  Our bodies seem to be drawn instinctively to a release and the headshake sneaks in.
    1. Fix: Release your shoulders and neck and let the breath flow easily and fully on the exhale as you speak. (We speak on the exhale* link to other article
  2. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sometimes the headshake seems to be almost a mute or dampening of our enthusiasm.
    1. Fix: Permission granted to you to share your feelings about what you are expressing. Gone are the days of monotone covering of our emotions. Get with the times and heighten your effectiveness by vocally revealing your connection to your message.
  3. Poker Tell.  Are our words truly matching what we think, feel, or believe? This is the third most common reason I have experienced while coaching.  The body tells the truth when we aren’t on board with our own messaging.
    1. Fix: Get honest with yourself and then your audience. The truth will come out. And if you try to keep it out of your voice, your body will tell.

One more detail along the journey to self-awareness that will enhance the trust you instill in others. Release your breath and voice, align your body and message and step into your truth.

Soft Skills Meets Theatre Tactics: Measure for Measure

By Robin Miller

Part 1: Tactics: The More the Better

Organizations want to measure communication abilities and evaluate soft skills outcomes – because if you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist.  Gauging progress in the art of communication can be challenging and elusive. Data is assumed to be essential to track progress.  Subjective feedback and accountability are traditionally used to track the development of soft skills.  While they do work, subjective feedback can, at the simplest level, be ineffective and at the worst cause damage to people and relationships. Using a grid that identifies the vast array of tactics and tools available can enhance tracking. It will strengthen the usefulness of feedback, as it helps deepen understanding of what success looks like.

We need to distinguish between successful use of soft skills and successful completion of a goal or meeting an objective.  Sometimes we have one without the other. We can have a successful outcome of a meeting and our soft skill use was not excellent. Or we can have a less than successful outcome and excellent use of soft skills.  How can we separate use of soft skills from success of the objective being met? Can we measure soft skill use independently of a goal being met?

Individually taking ownership and responsibility for improvement of our communication style and progress is key, but others are always going to be asked to evaluate our communication skills by our perceived success/failure. By creating a culture where we ask for feedback and engage a person to be our accountability partner, we open up a dialogue within the workplace for soft skills progress to be made and tracked, independent of the success or failure of the project.

So what are we measuring? Successful use of the soft skills? But what is that in reference to? If it’s not directly connected to the success of a project then we measure soft skills on their own merit.  But what is that in reference to?  To ourselves? To successful communication even if not a successful ending to a project?  Separating out those particulars is difficult

First, let’s separate out the variety of soft skills by exploring the theatre technique of tactic brain dumping of all the possibilities.

Objective/Tactic/Obstacle – Theatre Tools

The master communicator notes the objective and creates an extensive list of tactics ready to respond to anticipated obstacles.

Actors use a grid for making sure their characters have direction and aren’t just wandering aimlessly.  First, the objective is identified, second, the obstacles and then they equip themselves with all sorts of tools and techniques to get what they want. In business, this same grid can give a structure to soft skill tracking by specifying the variety of tactics and noticing if they are working. Too often in business, the objective is identified and then one, maybe two tactics are chosen. For instance, we identify the need for a new idea and we choose only one brainstorming activity.  This might work, however, our chances are increased if we take into consideration how our information is going to land on our client or team and create a list of possible tactics.

The variety of detail established in the grid enables a specificity in feedback that wards against over-general critiques. Over-general feedback, which usually feels innocuous or even safe to the giver can be sabotaging and do more damage than good.   We have witnessed many folks trapped in and replaying old subjective and misguided feedback that hinders them from moving forward.

First: Choose Clear Objectives

Objective example: Get this contract signed.

Relationships and situations are energized when we focus on objectives.  In theatre, actors are analyzing their character’s objective in relation to the others in the play – that is what the whole drama is about.  They are asking what do I want, need or must have from another character?  Without an objective, there is no drive, no direction. In business, when we lack an objective, we enter situations with no clear directive or direction. To avoid this, before meetings, pitches, or presentations, we can ask: what do I want or need from the other person?  What do they want or need from me?  Wandering aimlessly without an objective sucks the life out of plays and movies, as well as your meetings and presentations.

Although this seems basic or easy enough, often an objective has neither been consciously chosen nor directly agreed upon. When this happens, we lack focus and waste time and money.  It’s important before a meeting, to know where are you going and what you want as the outcome.

Second: Acknowledge that Obstacles Abound

Objective example: Get this contract signed.

Obstacles examples: Fear, Money, Obstinate, Don’t acknowledge need, Time, etc.

Things get in our way! Obstacles can be people, things, situations or even ourselves. An obstacle can slow down the progress of a project or create a larger scope of work.  A difficult personality could also become an obstacle in moving things or relationships forward.  In this case, we need to step back and ask ourselves, “What is the obstacle presented by this person or situation that keeps us from obtaining our objective?” This creates clarity and allows a new course of direction to be taken. Overcoming obstacles requires a diverse set of tactics and the use of creative flexibility.

Third: Identify and Collect a Variety of Tactics – the Domain of the Soft Skill Master

Objective example: Get this contract signed.

Obstacles examples: Fear, Money, Obstinate, Don’t acknowledge need, Time, etc.

Tactics examples: Point out benefits, reinforce track record, connect, assure, be blunt, soften, challenge, avoid fallout if not, subjugate, dominate, cajole….

Now we need techniques to move through the obstacles and obtain our objective. Tactics are the various ways we get what we need from another character.  In business, we need to ask: how am I going to get what I need in this meeting or situation?  Who are the other characters? How do they prefer to communicate? Do I call? Text? Email? Direct language or indirect? What is my style? What is theirs? These are enhanced by or involve the soft skill tools (tactics) that we have at our disposal.  Am I remaining open? What’s my voice portraying? What am I saying with my message? How is this landing on my client or teammates?

Final: Measure for Measure

Data is needed.  Having only one main objective per meeting is necessary.  Then note the obstacles – preparing for these can create clear focus and flexibility prior to any meeting.  Then fill in the tactics. Have a column, a long column – it needs to be chock full of options because when you are measuring soft skill abilities, you are looking at all the tactics that can be accessed. Being able to maneuver with flexibility and creativity as you encounter each obstacle is what we will measure. In theatre, we enjoy watching the characters’ resourcefulness. In business, we relax when we recognize we are in the care of a master communicator who is flexible, resilient and responsive.

Accountability is key. Self-monitoring is essential. Success is in the specificity.
1. Objective example: Get this contract signed.
Objective is established.
2. Obstacles examples: Fear, Money, Obstinate, Can’t admit need, Time, etc.
Obstacles are noted.
3. Tactics examples: Point out benefits, reinforce track record, connect, assure, be blunt, soften, challenge,   avoid fallout if not, subjugate, dominate, cajole….
Tactics possibilities are listed and plentiful.
4. Measuring the successful specific use, misuse or miss of use of tactics by the individual.

 So now we need to measure this very subjective use of tactics.  By measuring soft skills we can see progress in individuals and their interactions, as well as the impact on the overall outcomes of a project. Through this process, soft skills are directly connected to the hard skills.  The speed at which we are able to resolve issues with individuals and move projects forward will be directly connected to us practicing our soft skills.  Ultimately, each person is responsible for creating their personal communication goals and choosing accountability partners.  But as long as we have managers critiquing direct reports’ soft skills we have to go for specificity and diversity.

Part II – Coming in June: Can’t Measure, It Doesn’t Exist.

Don’t Be A Hack, Instead Master Your Communication: The Artist’s Way

written by Hilary Blair

Which pig are you?

In a world of quick fixes – we can miss the mastery.

In a world of making a quick buck – we neglect the nuance of relationship.

In a world of faster, bigger, better – we may end up with one shot results that can’t be replicated…or don’t hold up over time.

We often miss the artistic journey to mastery.

We are drawn to skipping steps. We want to get to the end faster – and even first. In business we meet folks who want to jump past to the outcome. They have no time for process until, by default, they come back around realizing the first steps suggested by someone really were essential to success.

Mastery takes time.  Yes, sometimes the hack is helpful and a good quick fix.  And yet, for the long haul, mastery will yield higher performance with better results.

Remember the three pigs and, finally, the brick house.

Shortcuts sometimes get us places faster, and sometimes mess up the lawn

Bumbling forward for a quick solution or an outcome rarely benefits anyone.

How often do we, in business and life, have to go back because we tried to find a shortcut?

We love shortcuts – how can I do that faster?

What are the quickest ways to become a better communicator?  What non-verbals should I do or not do? This is all surface communication hacks.

There are entire articles now on 10 hacks for this and 5 hacks for that – Hack now becoming synonymous with shortcut. Hacks are respected and craved because they save time – in the short run.

When do they sabotage?  When do they result in more work? Repeated work? Incomplete or destructive outcomes?

The straw and stick houses simply blew down.

Know when shortcuts are appropriate

There’s a reason some processes are called hacks. They skip to the end, and often, some key essences are lost along the way.  When people are called hacks, they are seen to come at things without any artistry or mastery.

I’ve been creating short cuts for communication learning for the last 15 years – ever since I switched from working with artists to working with business people. My traditional theatre training, with its thorough stepped processes, quickly lost the interest of my business clients.  They were eager for quick fixes.

Many professionals want the solution now – and the process only if they have to. And indeed while the quick fix works for some of the troubling situations and problems, be cautious.

But excellent communication is an art. Or better said, it can be an art.  For the subtleties and the nuances to be finessed, it must be learned and embraced as an art. Mastery of any art takes introspection, skill break down and exploration, and repetition and commitment.


When we want to step up our game – we add the art

Often, we are so focused on the end product that we miss the art process that got us there.  A movie, a painting, a live concert — Sometimes we hear them heralded as an instant or overnight success.  That myth messes with our own goal setting.  When we look into the history of the artist, it’s rarely a story of instant success. There are hours and days and years of committed practice that led to the so called “instant success.”  They were dedicated to the mastery of their art.

Golf is the same. I’ve played – and I’m intermittently good.  But to really become a master, I need to break down the process and become an artist of golf.

You don’t become the best by jumping to the outcome. You don’t become the best swimmer you can be by jumping in the pool and imitating what you think Michael Phelps is doing. You break down your stroke, your breathing, your kick, your push off, your dive, etc. piece by piece,

The art and nuance is discovered in the process of creating and learning and trying and failing and trying – resulting in true mastery.

Actors are often dismissed as being fake, overly expressive, pretending, etc.

True master actors – who mastered the art by committing to the process of training – are not fake or hacks. They move us emotionally to a place of truth and reality.  Acting is being real in imaginary circumstances and demands a disciplined practice.  Being fake in imaginary circumstances is the hack.

This works in all areas of our lives:

Most of us can cook. But when does it have the art? The mastery?

Classroom teachers – some are artists – some are utilitarian.

We Can Look Like We’re Doing it Excellently – And Still Miss the Point

Even good intentions can have a poor result if the mimicry is not undergirded with skill and nuance. An actor ended up with voice trouble because, in a large voice class, he learned to mimic what was being shown, but somehow, he missed detail of correct use for vocal extremes and created bad habits of misuse not “seen” from the outside.

The downward dog of a seasoned yogi has so much more going on versus a brand new yoga student in their first weeks of class.  The nuanced differences may be lost on the casual observer. They may feel they are doing the same move, but the trained eye and practitioner can see, sense, and recognize a very different nuanced position.

Tai Chi isn’t slow because it’s an old people’s movement exercise. The practice of Tai chi consciously and deliberately engages each and every muscle.  As a martial art, (and yes, it is an art as we define it) the masters move very quickly.  While the beginners move slowly – awakening their awareness of their own physical bodies.

At the bowling alley, I can move like I know what I’m doing, I have seemingly great form – created from imitating those around me.  But the proof is in the strikes – which are few and far between.

In the presence of any master, we may not know what is different, we may not see the art, we don’t see the breakdown of process and refinement — but we can feel the difference. We can feel that something truly is missing.

Think of all the other areas of our lives where we have “faked it until we made it.”

Do we really want to do that with our communication?

Reverse Process: Feels Backwards

Actors spend their initial training on breath and body – authenticity. Then move to sound and words. Then finally to written text.

But in business, I often see impatience and a need to jump to starting with the end first.  Results driven.

I first noticed this backwards approach as a voice over teacher.

Voice over is a very intriguing career dream.  Cartoons, animation, books, movie trailers, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, etc. – we fantasize hearing our voices.  It’s often a childhood dream being pursued.  I taught voice over for years.  Initially, I knew that anyone who was seriously considering this career needed to take an acting class, an improv class, and a voice class before they even thought about the nuances of voice over.  But I quickly realized that that is a very hard sell, even though most of the successful voice over artists are trained in acting, voice and improv.  So, in order to get the incoming novice connected, I learned – do it backwards.  And I began to notice that students who were serious about a career would exit the first voice over class series saying “Hey, I should take acting.” Or “Hey, I’m going to take a voice or improv class.”  And I’d respond with a satisfied grin and “Great idea.”

What of our communication? What of our voice and body? Yes, we all communicate every day, but when do we take the time to commit to mastery? When do we take the time to learn the art and process of excellent communication?  Are there deeper connections to our non-verbals – to our word choice? How can we connect more deeply and be sure our values are represented – our heart is present?

If we truly want to transform, we need to adopt the artist’s self-awareness and dedication to building the detailed skills that lead the artist to mastery.  You might  jump to the end, but then come back and commit to process.

Rehearsal, Practice, and Repetition.

Rehearsal, practice and repetition do not mean the loss of spontaneity.  Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The more we know our moves and possible variations, the more spontaneous, flexible and in the moment we can be with our responses.  Lack of rehearsals and practice makes us stiff, narrow and limited in our choices.

It’s the nuance and specificity that sets the amateur apart from the professional.

Communication skills are no different.

Nuance and specificity, benefits of trial and error, come with study and practice: The art of Mastery.  Master your communication by accessing the art of the process.

In a world increasingly drawn to time saving hacks, be an artist. Real communication is an art.



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